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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

OWS, Disability & Power Dynamics,

Here are my personal reflections on the exponential growth of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the role the disability rights movement can and should play in it. OWS has developed into a global phenomenon very quickly that provides a platform for the 99% of the wealth distribution. The members of the middle class and poor members of society are given a platform to express their rage, discontent and frustration over numerous injustices perpetuated by governing forces and the elite(1%) of their societies. Many of the inequities such as exorbitant bank fees, arrogant concentrations of power and income among the few echelons in power, are valid concerns and rightfully should be rectified through the political process of creating a coherent political agenda.

A number of disability activists, many of whom are personal friends of mine, are actively participating in the protests in an around Zuccotti Park and the financial epicenter, Wall Street itself on a weekly basis manning the barricades with protest signs highlighting systemic policy inequities fostered by society at large and especially by entities that subscribe to the medical, stigmatizing model of disability. What I find interesting and disconcerting is that every disenfranchised and minority group is represented and recognized by the governing body of the New York City OWS, the NYC General Assembly with one glaring exception: disability group is not mentioned in the NYCGA mega site (wwww.NYCGA.org) at all! It means that this group, 40 million strong nationwide is not acknowledged as a viable force to contend with. Such neglect is in line with historical trends where disability had traditionally been devalued by society at large, a residue of the eugenics era of the 19th and first half of the 20th century. Issues of great concern to the disability community are: access to employment opportunities (& adequate preparation for them through education)' health care coverage for well being and personal assistant services, affordable and accessible housing built according to universal design (disability-friendly) codes, utilizing public transportation modded such as subways and taxis, to cite a few of many issues. Key landmark legislation since the 1970s were passed creating unprecedented opportunities for many people with disabilities but relatively few were were able to take maximum advantage of them while the majority of them were either placed in custodial institutions or restricted within the confined of their home environments. Many battles were and continue to be fought by the grass roots disability rights movement. There have been successes and reversals with each succeeding generation.i believe that the experiences of the disability community is highly relevant to the Occupy Wall Street democratic force. Strategies a can be shared and the nascent anger can be shaped into a specific political agenda such as taxing the 1% to fund essential social services, will benefit all. Including a disability group in the NYCGA system is an excellent start in acknowledging our potential contributions to the cause long overdue. The late disability historian Paul K. Longmore and activist Frieda Zames would have agreed with this.

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